In yoga, we tend to build strong, powerful legs rather easily through a series of lunges and squats. The upper body, however, requires a bit more focus when we are on our mats. We get the most arm workouts when we are completing vinyasas that feature a yogi pushup, called a chaturanga. We also build some abs strength through various balancing postures. Today, we are going to focus on really engaging the upper body with this sequence from strong abs and arms.
I love working on my abs for other reasons. When we strengthen our core, we are able to find better balance in our yoga practice and in our daily lives. It also prevents injury, as we build core stability and train the muscles around it to follow suit. Strengthening the abs will also assist in your posture, increasing the ability to sit up straight and lengthen the spine. Additionally, it assists in improved breathing (use of the diaphragm) and better digestion (when stretching the abs).
I find the arms to be just as important. Whether I am building strength to lift myself up a rock wall or simply want to carry a heavy load of groceries into the house, strong arms come in handy. Plus, we must be strengthening the shoulders and upper body in order to move into advanced yoga poses, such as headstand and arm balances. I am a big fan of weight lifting when possible, but there are a number of yoga postures we can use to help build strength without weights. (Try yoga with dumbbells.)
Let’s start building strength!
Extended Child’s Pose
From hands and knees, bring the big toes together and take the knees out as wide as the mat. Sit back onto the heels and walk the hands forward, bringing the forehead down onto the mat. Allow the belly to drop between the thighs and sink into the hips. Reach through the fingertips, but allow the shoulder blades to stay in place.
Cat Pose Crunches
Starting from a strong tabletop position (hands under the shoulders, knees under the hips), pull the belly button up to the spine and press into the ground for stability. Lift your right leg off the ground and stretch it straight back behind you, pressing the heel of your foot away from your center. Keeping stability, extend your left hand out straight in front of you, making a long line of the body through the tips of the fingers to the heel of your foot. On an exhale, crunch together your elbow and knee while pulling the belly button up towards the spine. On the inhale, straighten back out, lengthening through the heel and fingertips. Repeat 8-10 times and again on the other side. Alternative: If you have difficulty staying balanced, try keeping your outstretched toe on the floor. This will be less intensive than the foot being off the ground. If it is still feeling too difficult, keep both hands on the crowd and simply focus on crunching in the knee.
Upward Facing Dog
Start laying on your belly with the feet stretched back behind with the tops of the feet pressed into the mat. Bring the palms underneath the shoulders, fingers spread wide, and the elbows are pulled in. On an inhale, press into the palms as you pull the body slightly forward and straighten into both arms. The torso and chest should open forward and the tops of the thighs are lifted from the ground. Lift the tailbone towards the pubis, keeping the buttock relaxed and the hips squared forward.
Downward Facing Dog
From hand and knees, place the knees directly underneath the hips and the feet hip distance apart. Hands should reach out in front of the shoulder with the fingers spread wide and the palms fully pressing into the floor. Lifting the knees off of the floor, reach the tailbone up towards the ceiling and straighten into the legs. Press the heels towards the floor and look up at the belly button, relaxing the tops of the shoulders.
One-Legged Downward Facing Dog
Starting in downward facing dog, reach the right foot off the ground behind you. Energize the leg by pressing through the heel and making sure that weight is evenly distributed between both hands.
Option: Bend into the right knee and open the hips up to the right for an added stretch.
From single legged downward facing down with the right leg lifted, bend into the right knee and begin to open the hips to the right side.. Slowly and gently, bring the right toes to the floor, behind the back. This should bring the majority of the body weight into the left hand and foot. Lift the hips up towards the sky as the right hand lifts and reaches overhead. Lift the hips and chest open as the right hand continues to reach. If it feels okay, look up at the right hand.
From downward facing dog, step the right foot up in between the hands, making sure that the knee is stacked right over the foot. Staying on your left toes, press into the left heel to straighten and strengthen the back leg. Center your hips forward by pressing your left hip towards the front of the mat. Reach the hands over head, keeping the shoulders drawn back and the belly pulled in. Modification option: Keep the hands on the hips or heart center if experiencing shoulder pain.
From high lunge with the right foot in front, bring both hands to heart center to find stability. Step the back foot closer to the front as you bring the weight of the body into the right foot. As you start to straighten into the right leg, press the left leg back behind you, lifting the toes off of the ground and pressing the top of the head forward. Aim to straighten fully into both legs fully, creating the shape of a “T” with the body. Keep the left hip dropped in line with the right hip and press into the heel for stability. Optional: Reach the arms forward, back, or out to the side to play with different variations.
From hands and knees, place the elbows directly underneath the shoulders and palms directly in front of the elbows, pressing into the forearms and palms into the mat, and lifting into the tops of the shoulders. Tuck the toes and step each foot back, bringing your body into one straight line. Tuck the pelvis, pull the bellybutton up towards the spine, and press the thighs together. Aim to make one long line with the body, not allowing the tailbone to lift or the hips to drop too low.
*Rest on the belly between each forearm pose
From forearm plank, stabilize the pose by pressing through the heels and the top of the head. Tuck the pelvis, pull the bellybutton up towards the spine, and press the thighs together. Lift the right foot off the ground. As you bend into the right knee, draw that knee up towards the right shoulder. Bring the foot back and take the pose to the other side.
Options: Start in plank pose (as pictured) for an easier version of this pose. You can choose to take this at any speed, holding each side for a couple breaths or moving quickly.
Forearm Side Plank
From forearm plank, shift onto the outside edge of your left foot, and stack your right foot on top of the left. Now swing your right hand onto your right hip, turn your torso to the right as you do, supporting the weight of your body on the outer left foot and left forearm.Try and make a straight line with the body by not allowing the hips to drop. Options: Increase the intensity by reaching your right hand towards the ceiling or lifting your right leg.
Begin with from a seated position with the knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Keeping the back straight, lean back slightly while lifting the feet to bring the shins parallel with the floor, and reach the arms forward towards the legs (baby boat pose). Lift through the chest, squeezing the shoulder blades together, and balance on the tailbone. To extend into the full boat pose, straighten into the legs at a 45 degree angle while continuing to balance on the tailbone and leaning back. Extend into the pose even further by reaching the hands overhead. Option: Grab the ankles or shins for an easier posture.
Single Leg Lifts
Start laying on the back, bringing the hands behind the head and the elbows spread wide. Pressing the lower back into the mat, lift the head off the ground without the hands pulling the neck forward. Lift both feet to hover a couple inches from the ground. Slowly, lift the right foot straight up to the sky and lower back down. Switch feet. Option: For a modified version, bend the right knee into the chest, then switch (as pictured).
Upward (Reverse) Plank Pose
Start from staff pose – seated with the legs straight out in front. Bring the hands to both sides of body, slightly behind the hips, with the fingertips pointing forward. On inhale, lift the hips up toward the ceiling, squeezing the tailbone up, and pulling the shoulder blades back. Aim to keep both legs straight the the soles of the feet on the floor. Optional: Drop the head back and continue to pull the shoulders back.
Knees to Chest
Laying flat on the back, draw both knees up into the chest. Squeeze the knees in by hugging the knees with the hands or arms. Optional movement: Rock side to side on the lower back or take the knees around in a circle for extra relief.
Don’t skip this one! This may not seem like it, but it is the most difficult yoga pose that you can accomplish. Laying flat on your back, bring the arms to your side with the palms up, allowing the shoulders to roll back. Allow the toes to fall out to the side and tuck the chin in slightly to make sure the back of the neck is straight. Relax the body as much as you can and rest here for 3-5 minutes.
Ready to work up a sweat with this upper body workout? Keep this routine nearby you by printing out this one page PDF.
Questions about the routine or how to get a workout with yoga? Comment below and let’s keep the conversation going!